20 September 2017

Uganda: We've Been Thrown in the Oil Shadows - Nwoya, Packwach, Nebbi District Leaders Speak Out

Got Apwoyo sub county is headquartered somewhere inside a tiny structure in Nwoya district, tucked behind the Gulu - Pakwach highway. Turning off at a trading centre is a small road that leads to the quiet two-roomed establishment.

The trading centre, a product of one of the several Internally Displaced Camps during the wanted warlord, Joseph Kony's Lord's Resistance Army insurgency in northern Uganda, is littered with grass thatched structures.

The area is fairly cool, it's the rainy season. Endless tracts of green vegetation are visible are along the highway. Expansive gardens of cereal are visible too. In the background of the sub county office is expansive maize garden. It looks healthy.

The region, having not been cultivated for a long time during the insurgency, has very fertile soils. In fact there are agro-based companies cultivating on very large scale. But beneath the agricultural potential here, lie simmering emotions and a sense of hopelessness.

Mr Openy Ben Latim, the LC3 chairperson Got Apwoyo sub county, is a very bitter man. Nwoya district lies in the Albertine region which harbours Uganda's oil fields. Across the highway is the Murchison Falls National Park where Total E&P won production licences for oil and gas in the Exploration Area (EA1).

Despite the proximity, Mr Openy is not optimistic at all and says the people are not happy. During the initial oil exploration in the park while prospecting for hydro carbons, locals and leaders did not know what was going on.

"I don't think we are going to benefit anything. Youth would come from Kampala to work here when we have our own. They used to bring everything from Kampala. Trucks used to bring vegetables for those people yet here we can grow vegetables," Openy says in a bitter tone.

The explanation that Nwoya district is part of government's master plan for the oil sector - the standard gauge railway poised to run through the district, a network of roads in the park, feeder pipelines linking to the Central Processing Facility in Buliisa - does not offer any comfort.

In fact, the mention of Buliisa irks him the more. "You see, everything happens in Nwoya but ends up in Buliisa," he says.

A story is told of how a group of locals once intercepted a truck that was leaving the park because they believed it was carrying crude oil. The truck was one of several that delivered suppliers then to the camps in the park during the exploration.

At Anaka Sub County not far from Nwoya district headquarters, the sentiments are not any different. Mr Opobo Geoffrey, the LC3 chairperson, said it was absurd that oil companies could not give their people simple jobs like security guards or drivers.

"We do have those certified drivers here but they cannot get jobs there," he said when asked if some of the locals were certified drivers.

"We do not know anything that is going on there in the park. The only thing we know about Total is the scholarships some of our youth get. I so far have four students benefiting, but that is it," he said.

The now Pakwach was curved off Nebbi district. Mr Okumu Benson is the LC3 chairperson Pakwach Town Council. He too adds his voice saying they do not have information about the oil activities in the district.

In the compound of the town council offices stands a Total - that now has a production licence for EA1 in Murchison Falls - branded notice board. Also a Total branded 'suggestion box' is pinned on the main administration block. Mr Okumu says the oil company occasionally pins up general information about developments in the sector but locals interpret it otherwise.

"They usually find their way to the camps and claim they advertised jobs. We wonder where they get that information but it's because people are desperate. Sometimes they accuse us of hiding oil jobs from them," Okumu says.

Mr Aguta Jimmy Frank, the Pakwach town clerk, says because of lack of information has misled people. During the exploration stage there was a wide spread problem of land speculation in the Albertine region because of oil.

"People here sold their land at giveaway prices to speculators. Our people were taken advantage of and now they blame the government," Mr Aguta says. Expectations remain high now that production phase is upon the country. Chairman Okum says they were told at a workshop in Kampala that 13,000 jobs would be created for Ugandans. But there is a catch.

Not all about oil

"This is the time to seize opportunities in the oil sector," Paul Tumwebaze of Civil Society Coalition on Oil and Gas once told a youth workshop in Masindi. This is a statement that has countless times resonated at numerous oil and gas workshops, the media and conferences under the flagship of 'local content'.

Whereas several Ugandans have pinned hopes on oil since prospecting started industry stakeholders advise about the immense opportunities available to feed off the value chain of the sector.

While meeting local government leaders, all of whom have been mentioned above, Didas Muhumuza, the ActionAid Extractives Governance project manager, who has immense knowledge of the sector as well, passed on the same message.

Specifically rallying for the inclusion of youth in accountable governance of the oil and gas sector, he reiterated that the industry will not absorb every Ugandan looking to join the sector.

"The decisions government is taking now as we enter the production phase were informed from what has been gathered since exploration started. There is nothing we can change now, but can work within the existing infrastructure," Muhumuza told the meeting at Got Apwoyo Sub County.

Chairman Openy had endlessly lamented that Nwoya was being sidelined, wondering why the oil pipeline network that will be draining in the Central Processing Facility should be located in Buliisa. Mr Muhumuza was at pains to explain that because Murchison Falls is a protected area much of the activity could not take place there.

While many of the leaders lamented their youth were not equipped to position themselves for opportunities through skilling and training, there are organisations like the GIZ-funded Skilling Uganda that are offering these opportunities. The programme is targeting to skill 8,000 youth in welding, driving, carpentry, electrical which will be on high demand during the production phase.

ActionAid Uganda under the Extractives Governance is rolling out a two-year Ford Foundation supported intervention to sensitise youth and build their capacity to gain an understanding of the extractives sector and use their knowledge to engage state and corporate actors in the accountable management of the sector. The project focuses on four Albertine districts of Hoima, Buliisa, Nwoya, Nebbi; and Mubende district.

Fortunately some of the leaders are not hopelessly waiting for the magic bullet. Mr Shaban Kinobe. LC3 chairman Panyimur Sub County said everyone is looking at oil whereas opportunities are abound in the value chain. Many of the leaders however expressed optimism about the new project, "People in Power; Influencing People in Power.

Robert Mwesigye

Oil.Uganda"actionaid.org

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